Arguably central London’s most impressive green space, Hyde Park covers an area of 344 acres (142 hectares) and is located within the City of Westminster in West London.
It’s hard to believe you’re in the heart of London when standing in the middle of this impressive park. In terms of trees, Hyde Parks are one of the most important aspects of the park and have been described as an ‘urban forest’.
Hyde Park History
Hyde Park owes its creation to Henry VIII who acquired it from the manor of Hyde from the Abbey. At this time, it was an enclosed deer park that was used from private hunting. James I was the first to grant limited access to the wider population.
During the 1860s, the Reform League led by Edmund Beales marched in Hyde Park and there were scuffles between the police and the League. The Prime Minister decided to allow meetings to continue without challenge and so, since 1872, Speaker’s Corner has allowed people to speak on any topic they wish.
Hyde Park as an Urban Forest
According to Wikipedia, an urban forest is “a forest or collection of trees that grow within a city, town or suburb. In a wider sense, it may include any kind of woody plant vegetation growing in and around human settlements.”
The Benefits of Having an Urban Forest Like Hyde Park in the City of London
Trees and other plant life have been referred to as the ‘lungs’ of planet earth. In a large, sprawling city like London, this greenery is of particular importance.
The urban forest provides many benefits to the people in surrounding areas: it protects from flooding, it filters pollution, it stores carbon and it is a habitat for wildlife and a space for recreation.
What’s more, an urban forest can moderate a local climate. For example, trees can slow wind speeds and shelter homes. A large open space with trees like Hyde Park is a critical tool in cooling down the Urban Heat Island effect.
This is a phenomenon whereby built-up areas are warmer than surrounding rural areas due to human activity. By reducing the UHI, London has fewer days with problematic ozone levels.
Hyde Park’s Trees and Their Environmental Benefit
There are over 3100 trees in Hyde Park with the most common species being London plane trees (37%), sweet chestnuts (6%) and common lime trees (10%) – although there are over 100 different species in the park from 45 genera.
Reduction in Harmful Gasses
Each year, Hyde Park’s trees remove 2.7 tonnes worth of pollutants. They also store 3900 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The importance of storing CO2 should not be underestimated. When trees grow, they are capable of storing more carbon in their tissue.
Consequently, when a tree dies and decomposes, the carbon is released back into the environment. Thus, maintaining the health of trees in the long term ensures that carbon is stored more than it is released.
The trees in Hyde Park sequester 66 tons of carbon each year, according to this Treeconomics report. Carbon sequestration is calculated based on how much trees grow per year.
If we want to visualise these figures in more manageable terms, the annual carbon storage of Hyde Park’s trees can be equated to the carbon produced by 3020 family cars or 1240 family homes.
Aiding During Storms
In urban areas storm run-off can be a major contributing factor to localised flooding and is a major cause of pollution in bodies of water like streams and rivers etc.
When it rains, some of the rainwater is intercepted by trees and plants and some reaches ground level. Any water that reaches ground level but doesn’t soak into the soil is surface run-off.
Since urban spaces are often covered with asphalt, paving and concrete, there is more surface run-off. With an urban forest, like Hyde Park, trees and shrubs intercept rain on the surface and underground, their roots are great for infiltrating water.
It is estimated that Hyde Park’s trees reduce run-off by almost 3600m3 every year. This is equivalent to the size of almost one and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools each year that isn’t going into London’s drains. This helps to save over £5000 each year.
If you were to put a figure on the cost of replacing every tree in Hyde Park, you would be looking at a figure that is close to £12 million.
Ageing Trees and Tree Condition
The London plane trees in Hyde Park are considered to be an ageing population. This means that more trees will have to be planted in the future if the park is to maintain its current level of benefits.
Most of the trees in Hyde Park are in excellent condition. During the last tree survey in Hyde Park, only 3 trees (so less than 0.01%) were in a critical condition. 78% of trees were described as being ‘excellent’ and a further 21% were described as ‘good’, meaning that 99% of trees in Hyde Park are good or better.
Future-Proofing Hyde Park
Given that over 37% of trees in Hyde Park are London plane trees, it would be somewhat of a disaster if the UK ever had a problem with Plane Wilt Disease.
This disease, also known as Canker Stain Disease, is a serious condition that is caused by the Ceratocystis platani fungus. At present, this disease occurs in the U.S. and Europe, but it is thought to be indigenous in North America only.
It is believed that the disease was brought over from the U.S. in infected wood packaging that supplied military equipment during the Second World War. It has, of course, spread across Europe but the UK is currently classed as a ‘Protected Zone’ meaning that there are safeguarding procedures in place to stop this disease being introduced here.
Tree Management in Hyde Park
The trees in Hyde Park are management by The Royal Parks. TRP is responsible for tree planting, tree protection and tree maintenance. Their policies state that they will use only the best arboricultural practice and they will conform to the British Standard with regards to tree work.
The Royal Parks as an organisation is very clear on what they will and will not allow in order to protect the trees in Hyde Park and other parks that they manage.
For example, they will not support any applications for tree removal or tree pruning for things like trees affecting satellite dish reception, excessive leaf fall, view obstructions, insect or bird problems associated with trees or trees affecting landscape features.
There are a few reasons where they will accept application for light tree pruning for example, if a tree is overhanging into a building and coming into contact with it. Finally, they rarely remove healthy trees.
In fact, the only reasons for healthy tree removal in Hyde Park is for arboricultural reasons like if a tree is causing structural damage or if removal is needed because of planning consent.
By being so strict with their tree management policy, The Royal Parks is able to future-proof Hyde Park for many generations to come.
Article was written by Louise W.